Bollywood Trumps Sex Trafficking in Canadian News Coverage

Commentary, Immigration, Frontier Centre

Last month, the Thomson Reuters Foundation released the results of a survey which ranked India as the fourth worst place in the world for a woman to live. That's right; India is the world's largest democracy, an emerging economic superpower and is concurrently an atrocious place to live as a woman. That doesn't seem right, does it? Well, for anybody who has traveled to India or knows a little about the reality of India instead of the fantasy portrayed by Bollywood, this statistic seems less shocking.

India has rampant levels of female foeticide and infanticide, which paradoxically, seems to have gotten steadily worse since 1981, despite India's rapid economic expansion. In addition, the country has unbridled levels of sex trafficking, which is the primary reason for its inclusion on the list. However, there is more to the story than that. The root cause of the problem is a deeply ingrained notion that women are second-class citizens and are to be subservient to men, who are venerated and revered. This philosophy is prevalent across the many diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic lines in India, and thus no one group is more responsible for it than another.

I soon realized that I had seen little reporting on the results of the survey. I became curious to see how many times India had been mentioned by the Canadian media in the past month. As any good law student might, I performed a prompt LexisNexis search to see just what kind of media coverage India had been getting. Unsurprisingly, inputting "India" in the search engine generated over 900 results. I quickly skimmed through the headlines, only to find a disproportionate number of hits pertaining to the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA).

I decided to refine my results. I typed in "India" and "Thomson Reuters" into the search engine, only to have it generate three results. Interesting. For my own amusement I plugged in "India," "Bollywood" and "Toronto" as the search terms and I found myself staring at 126 results. As I stared at my computer screen in disbelief, I reluctantly conceded that this was the sad state of reality. It makes sense that the Canadian media would cover the IIFA with such fervour, especially considering that South Asians are the largest visible minority group in the Greater Toronto Area. After all, Indians are a proud people who love their culture and Bollywood is an integral part of it. And yet, India has a darker side to its cultural traditions that nobody desires to address.

The fact that India is still a patriarchal, repressive society for women seems to have flown under the radar for the Canadian media. Disappointing in and of itself. What is even more upsetting is that no major Indo-Canadian organization commented on the results of the Thomson Reuters study. The silence emanating from Indo-Canadians on this issue is akin to our denial of the larger problem of culturally driven domestic violence that takes place within our community here on Canadian soil.

Under the guise of ethnocultural solidarity, Southeast Asians — Indians included — rarely openly speak out against culturally motivated domestic violence against women. Aruna Papp is among the few who have the courage to address the issue head-on. In her study entitled "Culturally Driven Violence against Women" she sheds light on the unique nature of domestic violence motivated by cultural factors: statistical frequency, collusion of multiple family members and the approval of the violence from members of the community, to name but a few.

Of course, I am not suggesting that the Indian community here in Canada holds an exclusive consortium over domestic violence, considering that on any given day, over 4,000 women are staying in a shelter in order to avoid spousal abuse. However, that does not detract from the issue of my people's inaction when faced with a cultural problem.

As a community, much like the rest of Canada, we chose to ignore the embarrassing and disgraceful inclusion of India in the results of the survey, so that our attention could be focused on the more important things in life: melodramatic Indian cinema and its international superstars. After all, who cares about the plight of an Indian girl being sold for sex trafficking when Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty, gets to walk down the green carpet with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan? Certainly not Canadians, Indian or otherwise.